Sunday, December 25, 2011
Is a secular Christmas possible?
Jesus Christ brings to mind the story of the temple bells, told by Father Tony de Mello, a Jesuit priest.
The story is about a temple which had sunk into the sea but whose bells, ringing out ceaselessly, according to a legend, could be head by anyone capable of listening. Inspired by the legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles and reached the place to hear those bells. But all that he heard was the sound of the sea. He kept at this task for weeks but in vain. Disappointed, he decided to leave the place.
It was his last day in the village. The young man went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea. He lay on the sand and, for the first time, tried to listen to the sound of the sea. Soon, he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself; so deep was the silence the sound produced.
Now he heard the temple bells! First he heard the tinkle of a tiny bell, followed by another, another, yet another till every one of the thousand bells was pealing out in harmony and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.
This is how Father de Mello commented on the story: Do you wish to hear the temple bells? Listen to the sound of the sea. Do you wish to catch a glimpse of God? Look intently at His creation.
That seems to be the essence of all that Jesus preached. He said, "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all they heart, with all they soul and with all thy mind." In the same breath, he said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour." To put them both in different words, this is what Jesus seemed to be saying: Use your faith in the service of the living men in the world. It appears, then, that his plan of action is not so much for the salvation of the soul in the other world as for the liberation of mankind from, say, oppression and misery in this world itself.
This is indeed a humanistic ideal which ought to be the concern of everyone who cares for others. If Christianity is a convenient name for this ideal, a religionless Christianity should also be possible as, indeed, it was possible for the German theologian, Bonhoeffer. It was he who coined the term, "religionless Christianity".
I don't know if there is a secular Christmas as well, but I don't see any reason why there shouldn't be one.